4 reasons when scrum retrospectives don't work.

Arno van Rossum
2 November 2021

I think there are 4 reasons when a scrum retrospective makes little sense. Either fix it or stop doing it.

The definition of the scrum guide:

The purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness.The Scrum Team inspects how the last Sprint went with regards to individuals, interactions, processes, tools, and their Definition of Done. Inspected elements often vary with the domain of work. Assumptions that led them astray are identified and their origins explored. The Scrum Team discusses what went well during the Sprint, what problems it encountered, and how those problems were (or were not) solved.The Scrum Team identifies the most helpful changes to improve its effectiveness. The most impactful improvements are addressed as soon as possible. They may even be added to the Sprint Backlog for the next Sprint.The Sprint Retrospective concludes the Sprint. It is timeboxed to a maximum of three hours for a one-month Sprint. For shorter Sprints, the event is usually shorter.

The purpose is mentionable, increasing quality and effectiveness, and I believe you can achieve these results with scrum retrospectives. But there are problems.

Reason 1, Timeboxed!


The scrum guide gives a timebox of a maximum of three hours for the one-month sprint. Three hours..... I don't know any engineer that likes three-hour meetings.

Most teams I know are in a 2-week sprint cycle, therefore the retro timebox is usually shorter, maybe an hour. Yet I found it doesn't give enough space to have all important issues addressed. Thus, the retrospective stops as the next scheduled meeting starts, like sprint planning or demos.

Unaddressed issues and meeting fatigue, not the best result.

Reason 2, We have scheduled time for this.


What would you do if something unwanted happens during the sprint? Others and I used to write it down and save it for the retrospective because we have scheduled time to talk about problems. Waiting to finish the sprint is a long time if frustrations keep piling up. I think this is decremental to team collaboration. With timeboxing will it be covered?

Teamwork is like a relationship. If you don’t solve your problems together, it will not be fun.

Reason 3, Shhhhhh


Top management implemented scrum, now we are agile. Checkbox marked. There you are, in the retrospective, and nobody has a sticky. Sounds familiar? It is.

This first value on the agile manifesto:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

A process implementation of scrum is not the same as the trust for a team to speak out their problems. If the retrospective doesn't facilitate growing trust, then what is the basis to hold a retrospective.


4, We must all comply.


Hints back to reason 3, when trust is non-existent, people sometimes post pointless stickies on the board, just to comply with the process and be "engaged". Now we sit in a meeting where there is no benefit. You are making time.

What to do?


If you experience problems, why wait for a formal meeting? Why not talk about it at that precise moment? I understand you might need to think about it for a while, but does it need to be at the end of the sprint, or could you talk once you've figured it out? But your colleagues don't have the "time"? Then maybe you do not value the first agile value, or maybe you undervalue yourself compared to your peers. If you have a problem, speak out, get help, don't wait.

You will feel so much happier when you work in a team where people collaborate, have trust, and want to improve their daily work!

Click here, if you want to feel better at work!

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